The Sky Shield on its (long) way to the air

A final test has proved the Elbit Systems Sky Shield can protect aircraft from the threat of shoulder-launched missiles.

The technological achievement is outstanding, but at the same time Israeli politicians proved once again that they live in a parallel universe where decisions are made at a certain pace – and not necessarily one that fits reality.

This slow handling of an imminent threat has been going on for years – and is shared by some of the Israeli cabinets.

The Israeli State Comptroller already investigated this issue back in 2011, asking why Israeli passenger planes have not been equipped with missile defence systems – ten years after the government approved the plan.

Six years ago pilots working for the three Israeli airlines warned the then-minister of transportation that the situation is a ripe for a “fiasco”.

Back in November 2002, terrorists tried to bring down an Arkia aircraft as it took off from Mombasa airport. Their rockets missed, however, and the disaster was averted.

The severity of the threat couldn’t overcome the various obstacles – mostly budget concerns – which prevented the installation of a defence system on all Israeli passenger planes. There were problems, but if anyone had been seriously meaning to do something about it, the problems would have been solved very quickly.

In Israel, however, nothing is done unless the threat is immediate. When Hezbollah and Hamas rockets were launched at Israel from Lebanon and Gaza, Rafael managed to deploy the first Iron Dome rocket interceptor within less than three years.

The Israeli researchers themselves are very capable – the problems appear when the government gets involved and does not understand the threat.

In this case, despite repeated, urgent warnings from all relevant intelligence organisations, no one in the government did anything to have the system installed sooner. Perhaps now things will advance towards full implementation of government decisions, but it’s more likely that this issue will also be mentioned in future State Comptroller reports.

The Sky Shield employs advanced technology, including a unique fibre-laser based, directional infra-red countermeasure (DIRCM) system and a sealed turret for maximum reliability.

The initial detection of incoming threats is provided by a missile warning system. When a threat is detected, the warning is passed to the DIRCM, which then directs a thermal tracker to acquire and track the threat. A powerful laser beam is then fired accurately at the missile, causing it to be deflected away from the aircraft.

The current need is for a “technology” that will make Israeli politicians act upon their own decisions.

This, I think, is a mission impossible even for the best Israeli development teams.

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